False terminology in the foreign media used in reference to Nazi German concentration camps in occupied Poland
by the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Poland
This document was compiled through the monitoring of the international media during the period coinciding with the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. For years, journalists have occasionally used terms like “Polish concentration camps” or “Polish death camps” in publications devoted to World War II and the Holocaust. Regardless of their intentions (e.g. geographic reference to a camp in occupied Poland), the use of such terms could be interpreted by some readers as indicating that the German Nazi camps had been built by Poles and thus were run as “Polish” camps. For this reason, Poland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all its missions around the world will consistently campaign against the use of terms that falsify history and shift the responsibility for the Holocaust from the criminal Nazi German regime onto Poland – which was occupied by that regime.
The dailies La Nacion and Clarin , late January 2005, articles commemorating the anniversary of Auschwitz contained the terms “Polish concentration camp” and “Polish camp”. Protest letters by the Polish ambassador to the papers.
31st January, article by Prof. J.D. Goldhagen headlined “Auschwitz – the name of darkness” (more on this in the section on the US), with claims of complicity of Poles in the crime of the Holocaust. Protest by the Polish ambassador.
The use by the Argentine press of terms like “Polish camps” mobilized the local Polish and Jewish communities to issue protest letters which were published in the papers and disseminated through the Internet.
The Australian Associated Press (AAP) and the website of TV Channel 7 News, story headlined “Momentous day for Auschwitz survivors” , 26th January 2005, contained the phrase “Polish camp”. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador, campaign by the Polish expat community (e.g. meeting of the editor of Tygodnik Polski with the federal minister for citizenship), references made to the ruling of the Australian Press Council of May 1999 in a similar case (Adjudication No. 1025) , issued in favor of the Federal Council of Polish Associations in Australia. Written apologies by the chief editor of the AAP, with precise internal instructions for the Agency’s journalists.
ABC television, broadcast of documentary titled “Claiming the Memories”, January 2005, suggestions of involvement of Poles in the killing of Jews; broadcast followed by anti-Polish stories in the Australian Jewish News and on the Internet (Auschwitz described as “the infamous Polish death camp”) – citing US press agencies. Protest campaign by Polish expats.
RVI-Radio Vlaanderen International (Flanders), 16th March 2005, commentary on the visit of the Belgian premier to Jerusalem - the term “Polish death camp” was used. After an intervention by the Polish embassy in Brussels, the station apologized on 18th March, explaining that the term had been used for brevity as a geographic reference.
The daily O Estado de Sao Paulo, 15th March 2005, story headlined “Charles sends son toAuschwitz” contained the term “Polish concentration camp”. Protest by the Polish ambassador. On 17th March the paper published his edited letter (in the “Readers’ forum” column) and a brief own correction. The Polish missions in Brazil mobilized the expat community. On 27th January, after the anniversary ceremonies at Auschwitz, South America’s biggest paper – Folha de Sao Paulo - published, side by side, articles by the ambassadors of Poland and Israel.
The daily Gazeta de Povo (local paper, Curitiba), 23rd January 2005, a story contained the claim that “Auschwitz I (…) was initially used by the Polish army”, while on 27th January the term “Polish concentration camp” was used in another article. Protest to the paper by the Polish consul-general, Polish expats mobilized .
Communiqué of the Brazilian MFA, 27th January 2005, use of the term
“ Auschwitz annihilation camp in Poland…” (without any reference to Nazi Germany). In response to that and distortions in the press, the Polish ambassador asked for a meeting with President Lula’s adviser and the director of the European department of the MFA.
Inscription (in English) on a plaque in front of Saint Sophie’s Church in Sofia commemorating the rescue of Bulgarian Jews in 1943; it contained the words “death camps in Poland”, without any reference to Nazi Germany. Interventions by the Polish embassy – the last of which on 23rd February 2005. The National Institute of Culture Monuments in Sofia pledged to change the inscription. On 23rd March the director of the NICM advised the embassy that the words “in Poland” had been removed from the plaque.
The daily Metro (distributed free of charge in Toronto’s public transport),
25th January 2005, photo caption on the front page contained the words “former Polish concentration camp Auschwitz”. Protest letter from the consul-general in Toronto and numerous protests by Polish expats. On 26th January,
the paper carried a correction and apologized. The consulate also sent an extensive letter to the publisher concerning falsification of history and its consequences.
The Edmonton Journal, 28th January 2005, anniversary article by D. Howell headlined “Auschwitz horrors haunt survivors 60 years later” contained the phrase “Polish death camp”. Immediate protests by the Polish consul-general in Vancouver and the honorary consul of the RP in Edmonton; Polish expat organizations notified. On 29th January, the paper published a correction (earlier, it did not carry corrections in similar situations), apologized to the consulate and published another article on Auschwitz, underlining the contribution of Poles to the struggle against Hitler’s regime.
The Calgary Sun, 28th January 2005, article headlined “Anniversary of evil” contained the phrase “Polish death camp” (Auschwitz). Protest by the Polish consulate-general in Vancouver, protest letters by Polish expats published by the paper, which subsequently carried a correction, while the editor-in-chief apologized to the consulate.
In addition to the above, the Polish ambassador in Ottawa and the press attaché sent protest letters to other papers (The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star) which had published stories in connection with the Auschwitz anniversary containing simplistic and tendentious historic interpretations. The Globe and Mail published only excerpts of that correspondence. That influential Montreal paper tends to belittle the contribution of Poles and the Polish resistance movement to the struggle against the Germans (e.g. it consistently ignores the activity of Żegota – an underground Polish organization that helped Jews during the war) and has insinuated mass collaboration of Poles with the Nazis. At the same time, Germans as a nation are not blamed for the crimes of the Third Reich, while Poles are collectively accused of collaboration. The paper has also claimed that anti-Semitism was a “Polish phenomenon”.
The Polish embassy in Ottawa has examined the possibility of legal measures to counteract the publication of information falsifying Polish history.
The weekly Respekt , 31st January – 6th February 2005, article by M. Svehla headlined “Returning Home” (on the fates of Czech Jews), a photo caption referred to “Jews returning from Polish death camps”. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador, moves to prevent similar occurrences in the future. The paper printed the letter without comment (“Letters to the Editor” column), under the heading “The annihilation camps were not Polish”. A sentence demanding that a correction be published was deleted from the letter.
The daily Helsingin Sanomat, 27th January 2005, article by H. Tulonen headlined “Finnish swastikas don’t trouble Jews” contained the words “Polish concentration camps”. Protest of the Polish embassy addressed to the author and the chief editor of the paper. Premier Vanhanen also advised (through the government spokesman and adviser of the parliamentary speaker). Polish expat organizations intervened. The paper expressed regrets and published a correction the next day.
The daily Le Progres (Lyon), 15th January 2005, a series of articles following
a visit by local youth to Auschwitz, claiming that the first camps were established by Poles in 1940 and that “the Nazis found favorable conditions in Poland for the development of the camps”. Intervention by the Polish consul-general in Lyon. On 27th January the paper carried a correction, explaining that a linguistic error had occurred.
TV channel France 3, 25th January 2005, current affairs show “France Europe Express”, leading journalist S. July, known for his supportive attitude to the enlargement of the EU and Poland, used the term “Polish camps of annihilation”. An intervention by the Polish embassy resulted in an apology and assurances that a linguistic lapse was involved.
TF1 (main French public TV channel) , 27th January 2005, in his account of the ceremonies at Auschwitz, a reporter used the words “Polish camps”. After
a protest by the Polish embassy, conveyed by phone, the information was corrected before the end of the broadcast, with an explanation that the camps had been built by Nazis in occupied Poland.
LCI news channel. 27th January 2005, the caption under a picture contained the words “Polish camp”. After a phone intervention by the embassy – the caption was corrected.
The daily Le Figaro, 28th January 2005, account of a conversation with E. Zuroff – a Jewish historian from Israel. The journalist quoted Zuroff to the effect that Romania, Lithuania and Poland had pro-Nazi regimes during the war. After its intervention, the embassy received an apology and an undertaking that the damage would be redressed. On 10th February the paper published an explanation in which it was stated that the journalist did not identify with the thesis that Poles had collaborated with the Nazis in exterminating Jews.
The weekly Le Point, 20th January 2005, article by R. Namias, information director of the French TV channel TF1, in which he described the story of his family’s deportation to Auschwitz, using the words “to Nazi Poland”. An analysis of the text indicated that it had been edited for brevity. The embassy protested to both Le Point and the author. Other protests were also made. The paper apologized – but only by phone.
The weekly Paris Match, 27th January 2005, two photos of policemen tormenting Jews - described as “Blue (Polish) Police”. Protest by the Polish embassy to the publisher. The pictures were used to illustrate an interview with Roma Ligocka, headlined “Poland was the only country where hiding Jews was punished by death” – which clearly indicated that Poland could not be considered co-responsible for the Holocaust. Paris Match published its correction in the issue of 17th-23rd March , explaining that the photo had in fact portrayed fascist Slovak militiamen.
The daily Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace (German edition) , 1st February 2005, article commemorating Israeli writer E. Kishon used the term “Polish camp of annihilation in Sobibor”. Protest letter by the Polish consul-general in Strasburg. On 5th February the paper published a correction.
The daily Le Monde , 27th January 2005, article by C. Chatelot headlined “The daily Rzeczpospolita denounces ‘unacceptable lies’ appearing in Western press”. The author described the problems caused by the use of terms like “Polish death camps”.
Television debate on I-Tele (Canal+), 27th January 2005, with the participation of the Polish ambassador to France – who explained why it was unacceptable to use the term “Polish camp”, even for the sake of editorial brevity.
The Macedonian Information Agency MIA, 27th January 2005, in a report on anniversary commemorations by the local Jewish community ( reprinted in the daily Vreme and the NATO-Skopje press review) used the term “Polish death camp of Treblinka”. Protest letters by the Polish ambassador. The MIA amended its story the same day and carried a correction. Apologies by the NATO commander in Skopje. The embassy mobilized the Polish expat organizations. Two papers carried an open letter from one of them - the Wisła Society.
The daily Utrinski Vesnik, 12th-13th March 2005, a report on the 62nd anniversary of the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Treblinka twice contained the term “the Polish camp of Treblinka”. After the Polish ambassador protested, the paper apologized and published a correction.
The daily Rheinische Post, 31st January 2005, article by L. Schroeder headlined “Satire as escape” (devoted to the late Israeli writer E. Kishon) contained the words “Polish annihilation camp” (Sobibor). Immediate interventions by the Polish consul-general in Cologne, director of the Polish Institute in Dusseldorf and private persons . On 1st February the paper published a satisfactory correction .
Earlier (autumn of 2004), the same phrase about the Sobibor camp was used in a dispatch of the DPA agency and then reprinted by several papers
(e.g. the weekly Stern). After protests and interventions (inter alia, by the Polish embassy in Berlin), the DPA apologized for the mistake and the phrase was removed from the Internet editions of the papers.
The use by some German media of terms like “Polish concentration camps” prompted the Polish ambassador in Berlin to hold a special meeting with the deputy spokesman of the Federal Government.
The Independent on Sunday, 16th January 2005, in a story by F. Elliot on the mishaps of Prince Harry (“Out of touch, out of control, Harry’s joke backfired on royalty”), the author reported that the grandmother of Tory leader Michael Howard had “died in a Polish death camp”. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador, other protests – also by the Union of Poles in Great Britain. On 23rd January, the paper ran an article by the letters editor, extensively quoting the ambassador’s letter and apologizing to all those who felt offended. He noted that similar words had been attributed M. Howard last year by a press agency – which refused to apologize for the distortion, explaining that the word “Polish” had been used exclusively as a geographic reference.
The Guardian, 26th January 2005, editorial by I. Black (“Eternal memory”) in connection with the Auschwitz anniversary ceremonies included the following sentence: “Parisians yesterday dedicated a memorial to 72,000 French Jews rounded up and shipped in cattle cars to the Polish gas chambers and crematoria”. Immediate protest by the Polish ambassador to the paper, the embassy alerted the Union of Poles in Great Britain. Other protests, also by Polish European MPs. On 27th January, the paper published a correction, and on 29th January – an extensive commentary by the paper’s ombudsman admitting that the reference to Poland may have seriously offended many Poles and that the paper’s mistake had had broad repercussions, particularly in Poland. He also suggested that perhaps it would have been better to say outright that the Nazis were Germans. There was also an apology on behalf of the Guardian’s editors.
Channel 4 News, 27th January 2005, account of the ceremonies in Auschwitz – the term “Polish camps” used on two occasions. Still, before the end of the broadcast, the well-known commentator I. Snow made an apology for the lapse. In e-mails sent to protesting viewers, the station’s PR officer apologized for “the inexcusable and unprofessional error”.
Brighton daily The Argus, 27th January 2005, a story on the Auschwitz anniversary ceremonies contained the words “Polish camps”. Protest letter by the press officer of the Polish embassy in London. On 4th February the paper published its excerpts, while the letters editor apologized.
In addition to the above-mentioned publications containing explicit falsifications of the truth about the Nazi concentration camps, some papers and magazines published a variety of materials connected with the 60th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation occasionally containing interpretations concerning historic events and anti-Semitism that were objectionable from the Polish point of view. In several cases (Sunday Mercury of 23rd January, The Guardian of 29th January, The Economic of 29th January) polemical letters to the publishers were sent by the Polish ambassador.
The daily Spits (distributed free of charge in public transport), 26th January 2005, article headlined “In search of a barrack at the Auschwitz concentration camp”, contained the term “Polish annihilation camp”. On 27th January,
the paper carried protest letters from the Polish ambassador and a Polish woman living in Holland. The paper also apologized.
The daily Algemeen Dagblad, 27th January 2005, report headlined “Oswiecim grappling with Auschwitz”, with the words “Polish concentration camp” in the first sentence. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador. In response, the chief editor apologized, stressing that no bad intentions had been involved.
The Trouw daily, 26th January 2005, article by E. Overbeek headlined “Polish concentration camps never existed”, reporting on the publicity in Poland given to the issue of “Polish concentration camps”, and on the improving relations between Poles and Jews.
The Irish Times, 24th January 2005, article by D. McLaughlin headlined “Mechanics of murder: how the Nazis killed” contained the term “Polish camp” (in a clearly geographic context). The paper published a letter from the Polish ambassador, who was later invited to give a lecture at Trinity College in Dublin; also, radio interviews with the ambassador, who requested that similar terms not be used.
The daily Corriere della Sera, 13th January 2005, article about a book by L. Segre, a former inmate of Auschwitz, with the words “Polish camp” in the subheading. Phone intervention by the press officer of the Polish embassy plus letter from the ambassador, printed on 15th January in the “interventions and polemics” section. The paper explained that the wording used was the result of a lapse and not bad will (in another article on Auschwitz, the paper referred to “the Nazi annihilation camp in Poland”).
The daily Il Sole 24 Ore, 31st January 2005, the same article, the same phrase “Polish camp”. The ambassador’s protest letter printed in the letters column with the heading “Auschwitz – Nazi camp, not Polish” .
The daily La Stampa , 20th January , series of articles about the Holocaust and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the subtitle of an article by B. Spinelli contained the words “Polish camp” (the context indicated an unintentional lapse – as admitted by the paper). Publication of the ambassador’s letter.
The daily L’Unita, article in connection with European Parliament resolution on the Auschwitz liberation anniversary headlined “Poles against allusions to their guilt”. The paper carried the ambassador’s protest letter (reprinted in part by Corriere della Sera), though with a polemical commentary.
In view of the recurring use of the term “Polish camps” in the press, the Polish embassy in Rome sent a statement to the media asking for the use of correct terminology in publications about the death camps.
The website of the culture ministry of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, report on a documentary film titled “Heim ins Reich” contained the phrase “Polish concentration and annihilation camp”. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador to Belgium (also accredited in Luxembourg) addressed to the culture ministry, after which the objectionable phrase was quickly corrected.
The case of publications – highly unfriendly to Poland - by the Norwegian journalist H. W. Steinfeld . In November 2004, during an Internet debate on the website of NHK television, Steinfeld – describing the current political situation in the Ukraine – used the term “the Polish Nazis in Lvov”. The Polish ambassador responded with a firm protest, providing substantive historic arguments to prove that the term was unjustified. The protest evolved into a broad campaign by the embassy. A succession of publications and polemics was printed by the top daily Aftenposten, while Steinfeld - in reply to an open letter by the Polish ambassador – resorted to further libelous outbursts, distorting the historic truth about Poland during the war. The papers carried further statements by the Polish side, as well as articles (also by well-known Norwegian journalists) who exposed Steinfeld’s manipulations and his persistent bad will in misrepresenting facts. The publications turned into a public debate on the reliability of the Norwegian media and the responsibility of journalists for what they write. Since the manipulation was undisputable, the Polish embassy lodged a complaint with the press watch-dog body – the Professional Press Committee. Regrettably, that institution adopted an ill-defined position and in effect refused to make an ethical evaluation of Steinfeld’s conduct – thus acquiescing to the dissemination of lies. The public TV channel NHK also took a surprising stance: it expressed support for Steinfeld and refused to delete the passage about “Polish Nazis”, creating the danger that future viewers, readers or researchers – at least those in Ukraine - would get a false picture of Poland and Poles. At present, the Polish embassy in Oslo, having received the necessary funds from the MFA, is using lawyers to examine the possibility of litigation.
The daily Il Publico, 23rd January 2005, special supplement on Auschwitz contained the words “Polish camp” (other content was objective). The paper printed the Polish ambassador’s protest letter on 27th January.
The daily Diario de Noticias published an interview with the Polish ambassador in connection with the Auschwitz liberation anniversary.
The private TV channel TA3 and the public STV, 27th January 2005, reports on the Auschwitz ceremonies contained the phrases “Polish concentration camp” and “Polish death factory”. Letters from the Polish ambassador demanding corrections on the air. Other protests – by the expat Polish Club and the Jewish community. The TV channels apologized.
The daily Delo, 9th January 2005, an article by V. Kadunec contained the words “Polish death ghetto in Vilnius”. On 23rd January the author published a correction in the paper.
The daily El Mundo (Internet edition) , 26th January 2005, the captions of two photos from Auschwitz contained the words “Polish camp”. An intervention by the Polish embassy resulted in immediate deletion of the phrase. Additionally, the Polish ambassador sent a letter to the paper, explaining the problem of the so-called Auschwitz lie.
El Mundo, 28th January 2005, an account of the Auschwitz liberation anniversary ceremonies contained the phrase “Polish camp of annihilation”
in a photo caption. Protest letter by the Polish ambassador to the editor-in-chief, demanding a correction. The paper apologized, pledging that similar errors would not recur in the future.
The daily El Pais, 29th January 2005, article by J .D. Goldhagen (referred to in the sections devoted to Argentine and other countries) headlined “In the heart of darkness”, contained the phrase “Polish collaborators” (used with reference to the persecution, robbery and murder of Jews). A letter from the Polish embassy, explaining the historic context, was printed in full on 2nd February.
El Pais, 9th March 2005, letter by the editor-in-chief of the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, G. Gauden, appealing to foreign journalists for historic truth about the concentration camps.
The daily Tribune de Geneve, 26th January, report on the Auschwitz anniversary ceremonies in Germany, the caption of a photo of the gate to Birkenau contained the words “Polish camp after liberation in 1945”. A protest letter by the Polish embassy resulted in a written apology by the chief editor and a correction in the paper.
TSR television, 25th January 2005, commentary by D. Rochebin in the evening news, equating the crimes in Auschwitz with the lack of reaction in the West, the collaboration of the French with Germans, the neutrality of Switzerland and “the anti-Semitism of many Poles”. Protest letter by the ambassador on 2nd February. The response of the TSR director arrived on 15th April, but without apologies or substantive explanation.
The Chicago Tribune, 27th January 2005, an article by R. Working “Jews decry US delegation pick” (criticizing the composition of the US delegation to the Auschwitz commemoration) contained the phrase “Polish concentration camps”. Immediate protest by the embassy addressed to the paper and the author, protests by individual expats and their organizations. On 28th January the paper published a correction.
The Daytona News Journal, 28th January 2005, article by R. Weiss with an account by an Auschwitz survivor, contained the words “Polish death camps”. Protest by the Polish embassy addressed to the paper and author. On 31st January the paper carried a correction.
The Washington Post (Montgomery Extra supplement) , 3rd February 2005, an article about the Auschwitz-Birkenau anniversary contained the words “ killing the Jews in Polish ghettos”. A protest by the Polish embassy resulted in the paper publishing a prominent correction on 17th February (the paper admitted that the phrase should have been worded as : “murders of Jews in Nazi German ghettos in occupied Poland”).
The New York Times, 27th January, article by C. Smith headlined “World leaders gather for Auschwitz ceremony”, referring to the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation: “for Poland and other Central European countries it is both part of a gradual recognition of their complicity in the killing and an opportunity to draw closer to Europe”. The Polish embassy in Washington protested sharply to the author and the editor-in-chief, demanding a correction. The public affairs editor of the paper responded by e-mail on 30th January. He admitted that it had not been the intention of the author to suggest complicity of Poles in the genocide committed in Nazi death camps, but that he was making a broad reference to the recognition in Poland of an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in parts of the country, which led to instances of Jews being killed by Poles during the war (in particular – the mass murder in the town of Jedwabne). The paper did not publish the embassy’s letter, though it ran a letter by S. Cloud, author of
“A Question of Honour” - a celebrated book about Polish air force pilots during the war. The embassy was advised by phone that no further correction or apology would be printed. However, as a result of a further intervention by the embassy (in addition to other protests) , the paper finally did publish a letter from the embassy’s press officer (in the letters column).
On 30th January, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David A. Harris, published a statement on Poland and the Auschwitz commemoration. He criticized the distortion of historic facts and the use of terms like “Polish concentration camps”, stressing the contribution of Poland and Poles to the fight against Nazi Germany.
On 5th February, Professor Władysław Bartoszewski - president of the International Auschwitz Council, a Righteous Among the Nations, an Honorary Citizen of Israel and two-time former Polish foreign minister , addressed a letter to C. Smith. The NYT confirmed receiving the letter, but refused to print it.
Article by Harvard history professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, January 2005. This short essay on the significance of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was probably ordered by a press syndicate or agency – because it appeared within a few days in several papers in different countries (US, Canada, Argentine, Spain). Though well-written and moving, the text is clearly hostile to Poland. It reads, in part: “The Nazis – together with a large number of ordinary Germans, aided by collaborating Poles, French and others – persecuted, hounded and robbed 6 million of them, about a million of them gassed and burned at Auschwitz”.
“World History – People and Nations” (Holt, Rinehardt&Winston publishing company, 2000), page 729 – use of the phrase “Polish death camp”. 7th March 2005 – protest letter to the publisher by the Polish consul-general in New York. In a response dated 31st March, the publishers promised that the matter would be taken into consideration for the next edition of the book.
The weekly Quinto Dia, 28th January- 4th February 2005, an article headlined “Auschwitz – we cannot forget” contained the words “Polish concentration camp”. After an intervention by the Polish embassy, the issue of 18th-25th February carried a correction and letter from the embassy.
In conclusion, it should be noted that in most cases terms like “Polish concentration/death/annihilation camps” were not used by foreign journalists because of their bad will and intention to falsify the historic responsibility for the Holocaust and Nazi camps. This was demonstrated by the willingness of the editors to publish corrections (and often – apologies), and also by an analysis of the content of the publications in which the objectionable term was used.
It is much harder to fight for the historic truth with the authors of essays and commentaries. These often contain opinions, reflections and interpretations wherein historic facts about World War II and the Holocaust may be minimized or exaggerated – paving the way for unfounded assessments and the use of stereotypes.